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Editorial: Oregon’s dismal turnout

Voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary was the lowest in decades. That’s partly because the state’s Motor Voter law has added thousands of voters to the rolls and partly because the top two major parties don’t allow more voters to participate, even as the parties’ share of the electorate continues to shrink.

The statewide turnout stood at just under 33 percent at midday Wednesday.

The Secretary of State’s Office tried to put a positive spin on that number by noting it was better than the turnouts in several other states Tuesday. Still, 33 percent is nothing to be proud of. So why didn’t more people vote?

First, automatically registering everyone who has contact with Driver and Motor Vehicle Services gets more people on the rolls, but it can’t force them to vote. People automatically registered get a ballot in the mail, and some will send it in. But the Motor Voter system registers new voters as non-affiliated. Unless they opt to become a Democrat or a Republican, they don’t have much say in the primary. Their ballots list only nonpartisan races, ballot measures and Independent Party candidates.

Non-affiliated voters outnumber Republicans statewide, and outnumber Democrats in Jackson County. But they don’t get to help pick the candidates who will face off in November.

The Independent Party allows non-affiliated voters to vote in its primary. The Democrats and the Republicans could do that, too, but they choose not to.

Maybe they will when non-affiliated voters outnumber both of the top two parties.